The World Bank Group A World Free of Poverty
The World Bank Group Home
PovertyNet: from the World Bank Topics and Sectors PovertyNet: from the World Bank The Literature of Poverty: A CollectionPovertyNet: from the World Bank

Kazi Nazrul Islam, "Poverty"

Kazi Nazrul Islam (1899-1976) was born in the village of Churulia, West Bengal. He produced more than twenty books of poetry and songs as well as fiction and plays.  He is also known as the "rebel poet". 

    O poverty, thou hast made me great. 
Thou hast made me honoured like Christ 
With his crown of thorns. Thou hast given me 
Courage to reveal all. To thee I owe 
My insolent, naked eyes and sharp tongue. 
Thy curse has turned my violin to a sword. 

O proud saint, thy terrible fire 
Has rendered my heaven barren. 
It has prematurely dried beauty. 
My feelings and my life. 
Time and again I stretched my lean, cupped hands 
To accept the gift of the beautiful. 
But those hungry ones always came before me. 
And did snatch it away ruthlessly, 
Now my word of imagination is 
Dry as a vast desert. 
And my own beautiful! 

My yellow-stalked pensive desire 
Wants to blossom like the fragrant shafali. 
But thou cruel one 
Dost ruthlessly break the soft stalk 
As the woodcutter chops the branches 
Off the trees. My heart grows tender 
Like the autumn morning 
It fills with love 
Like the dew-laden earth. 
But thou art the blazing sun 
And thy fiery heart dries up the tiny drop of the earth. 
I grow listless in the shadowy skirt of the earth 
And my dreams of beauty and goodness vanish! 
With a bitter tongue thou askest, 
"What's the use of nectar? 
It has no sting, no intoxication, no madness in it. 
The search for heaven's sacred drink 
Is not for thee in this sorrow-filled earth. 

Thou art the serpent, born in pain. 
Thou will sit in the bower of thorns 
And weave the garland of flowers.
I put on thy forehead the sting 
Of suffering and woe." 

So I sing, I weave a garland, 
While my throat is on fire, 
And my serpent daughter bites me all over! 

O unforgiving Durbasha! thou wanderest 
From door to door with thy beggar's bowl. 
Thou goest to the peaceful abode of 
Some sleeping happy couple 
And sternly callest, "O fool, 
Knowest thou, that this earth is not anybody's 
pleasure bower for luxury and ease. 
Here is sorrow and separation 
And a hundred wants and disease. 
Under the arms of the beloved 
There are thorns in the bed, 
And now must thou prepare 
To savour these."  The unhappy home 
Is shattered in a moment, 
And woeful laments rend 
The air. The light of joy is extinguished 
And endless nights descends. 

Thou walkest the road alone 
Lean, hungry and starved. 
Suddenly some sight makes thine eyebrows 
Arch in annoyance and thine eyes 
Blaze forth fires of anger! 
And lo!  Famine, pestilence and tempest
Visit the country, pleasure-gardens burn, 
Palaces tumble, thy laws 
Know nothing but death and destruction. 
Nor for thee the license of courtesy. 
Thou seekest the unashamed revelation of stark nakedness. 
Thou knowest no timid hesitation or polite embarrassment 
Thou dost raise high the lowly head. 
At thy signal the travellers on the road to death 
Put round their neck the fatal noose 
With cheerful smile on their faces! 
Nursing the fire of perennial want in their bosom 
They worship the god of death in fiendish glee! 
Thou tramplest the crown of Lakshmi 
Under thy feet. What tune 
Dost thou want to sing 
Out of her violin? At thy touch 
the music turns into cries of anguish! 
Waking up in the morning, I heard yesterday 
The plaintive Sanai mourning those 
Who had not returned yet, At home 
The singer cried for them and wept bitter tears 
And floating with that music the soul of the beloved 
Wandered far to the distant spot 
Where the love anxiously waited. 
This morning I got up 
And heard the Sanai again 
Crying as mournfully as ever. 
And the pensive Shefalika, 
sad as a widow's smile, 
Falls in clusters, spreading 
A mild fragrance in the air. 
Today the butterfly dances in restless joy 
Numbing the flowers with its kisses. 
And the wings of the bee 
Carry the yellow of the petals, 
It's body covered with honey. 

Life seems to have sprung up suddenly 
On all sides. A song of welcome 
Comes unconsciously to my lips 
And unbidden tears spring to my eyes 
Someone seems to have entwined my soul 
With that of Mother Earth. She comes forward 
And with her dust-adorned hands 
Offers me her presents. 
It seems to me that she is the youngest daughter of mine, 
My darling child! But suddenly I wake up with a start. 
O cruel saint, being my child, 
Thou weepest in my home, hungry and reviled! 

O my child, my darling one 
I could not give thee even a drop of milk 
No right have I to rejoice. 
Poverty weeps within my doors forever 
As my spouse and my child. 
Who will play the flute? 
Where shall I get the happy smile 
Of the beautiful? Where the honeyed drink, 
I have drunk deep the hemlock 
Of bitter tears! 

And still even today 
I hear the mournful tune of the Sanai.


Daridro ("Poverty"). Translation by Kabir Chowdhury, from the Kazi Nazrul Islam Page at , edited by Ben Jones.  Thanks to Asif Dowla for this selection. 

| Back to Top | Literature of Poverty: Contents | PovertyNet Home |

The World Bank Home <>

This page last updated on October 23, 2000